As a wine writer, reader, and consumer, I hear a lot about the significance of the Millennial Generation on both the current and future wine trade. Millennials in the United States have taken to wine at a younger age than previous generations–my personal experience concurs. Projections suggest we, Millennials, will continue to play a substantial role in the evolving wine world. Therefore, I posit a few reflections as a Millennial wine enthusiast and writer.
I was born in 1984, placing me on the mature end of the Millennial Generation. During the thirty-one years of my life, the wine industry witnessed a brief decline, followed by a boom sparked by the easy money of the ’90s and an evolving American palate (over-simplification noted). Since the early ’90s, Americans have doubled their consumption of wine (1).
Today, most of my friends and acquaintances fall into the middle and upper-middle class, and nearly all drink wine (only three of us work in the industry). Weekday gatherings, summer celebrations, and special events typically involve wine alongside craft beer. Male-centric events will often go without wine. Conversely, events including more women frequently have a higher proportion of wine served. When my friends and I buy wine, we seek value–quality for the dollars we spend–and rarely spend above $15-$20. $20+ bottles stay in the cellar (basement–let’s be real) for special events. My peers fortunately fall in the rare minority by making it into the upper-middle class. However, this has come with significant debt burdens that accompany master’s degrees and PhDs. We will continue to spend most our dollars in the $8-$15 wine category for the next decade.
Any politically or sociologically aware person has learned of or experienced the effects of a dwindling middle-class. For Millennials, college debt sits at the center of our financial challenges. Skyrocketing college costs in conjunction with the shrinking middle-class should raise concern for the wine industry (as well as other industries). It bodes poorly for the future if trends continue. Wine spending is discretionary spending–first to go if when times get tougher. While the top 25% can sustain a wine industry, including boutique wineries, we should all hope for a broader and more robust economy. In other words, I can only imagine how vigorous the wine industry would be if the Millennial generation also lived the reality of a strong middle-class as we did in the 1950s (a decent graph to demo this point). Drink for thought.
Beyond price, when my friends and I buy wine, we seek authenticity, exploration, and a story–especially stories that display respect for the land. I seek out second label wines from small to mid-size wineries for these reasons. Large businesses make mass-market wines–good, drinkable, and forgettable. They often taste just like that other mass-market wine you drank last week. I have great respect for the mid-size winery that crafts distinctive second label wines. The Old World does a better job, unfortunately, of creating a diversity of wine styles, types, and flavors at lower price points, even within one wine region (the Loire Valley, for example). In addition, those who enjoy affordable, diverse Old World wines have recently benefited from a strong U.S. dollar, which has lowered the price tag on imports.When you add this up, no surprise that Millennials seek deals. Deals and steals often require middle-men (distributors) to get out of the picture. Naked Wine, Garagiste, and 90+ Cellars all exemplify a model that Millennials have supported and will continue to embrace (see previous post on buying wine). Distributors will continue to see their influence shrink. I shed no tears.Finally, expect more canned and boxed wine, as well as wine on tap (kegged wine). For the sake of the environment, convenience, and economy, Millennials appreciate these relatively new means of delivery. I embrace tradition with ambivalence. Wineries of the world, give me a story I can believe, grow grapes and craft wines of distinction, and speak to how your place expresses itself in your bottles. I will be there to savor and write about it.
(1) Wine Institute